A recent anti-Rick Scott television ad has been causing controversy and sparking some intense conversation in the wake of the Parkland, FL tragedy. The advertisement, which recently went into circulation discusses Parkland, the Orlando nightclub shooting, and the Ft. Lauderdale events targets Rick Scott for his involvement in legislation that prevented care providers, including mental health specialists, from asking patients about gun ownership. This docs vs. glocks advertisement is addressing a 2011 bill that was implemented to strengthen patient protection related to firearms ownership after learning about a Central Florida woman who was denied care from her pediatrician for having firearms in the household.

The bill specifies that providers cannot ask patients or their families if they own a gun unless the provider has reason to believe that the information is relevant to the patient’s care, safety, or the safety of others. Of course, the bill was designed to prevent discrimination, and deters care providers (including those who offer counseling and psychotherapy services) from doing so by promising fines up to $10,000 or the loss of their medical license.

This bill successfully made it through the House and Senate, and was signed into effect in June of 2011. While this bill doesn’t explicitly forbid providers from asking their patients about gun ownership, it certainly discourages them from asking such questions in fear of financial penalty or loss of livelihood. The question is – does this bill do more harm than good? Will providers avoid asking patients about gun ownership, even if they deem it medically necessary?

These questions were thrown back and forth in litigation for nearly six years before the courts decided to revise the bill, as some provisions were deemed unconstitutional. In February 2017 the 11th Circuit Federal Appeals Court ruled that the portion of the law preventing providers from asking about patients was unconstitutional, stating that the bill’s “record-keeping and inquiry provisions prevent doctors and medical professionals from asking all patients, or all patients with children, whether they own firearms or have firearms in their homes, or from recording answers to such questions.”

The court wrote that medical professionals who gave patients an intake questionnaire that asks about firearms in the home would have been considered to be in violation of the law, leaving many practitioners at risk. Providers faced a credible threat of prosecution, which could easily lead to self-censorship harm, thus the bill was failing to serve both patients and physicians. The court also determined that the legislation did not provide any means by which a patient could be educated by their providers about firearms and firearms safety. In the realm of healthcare and public health, information is a powerful tool when it comes to saving lives. Doctors need to feel comfortable speaking with their patients about any and all aspects of their health, and given the high frequency of gun-related deaths, firearms safety is certainly a healthcare issue.

Certain age groups are statistically more vulnerable to bodily injury or death when living within proximity of a firearm (i.e. guns in the house, easy access). For this reason, many providers see it as a normal and necessary function of their job to inquire about and educate their patients on firearm safety. While it is everyone’s right to bear arms, it is also a care provider’s right to properly and thoroughly do their job without fear of repercussion.

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